Black or African American

Redefining Realness: How Janet Mock Is Teaching Me To Be A Better Trans Ally

by Sean A. Watkins

“We need to give trans people space to tell their own stories, and we should follow the lead of people who are out there and being visible, and actually advocating for these rights.” –Janet Mock

Over the past few months, transgender women and men have been in the news a lot. From Laverne Cox and Carmen Carerra’s interview with Katie Couric (where the two had to brilliantly check Katie on her invasive questions), to the legislative wins for transgender equality, 2014 is becoming a year where the “T” in LGBTQ is getting the national respect, justice, and admiration that has been long overdue.

Today’s trans icons are not the first generation of individuals who have spoken out on the injustices facing the trans community.

Today’s heroes add weight to a fight that has been going on long before I was even born. Yet over the past three months, there has been one trans woman who has permeated through my daily thoughts, becoming a new shero in my life. Her name? Janet Mock.

I was first introduced to Janet after seeing her now well-known spat with Piers Morgan on his since-cancelled CNN show. I was blown away at how this black woman was able to stay so classy and respectful despite dealing with blatant ignorance and disrespect on such a national level.

As an openly gay Black male who has been fortunate enough to live and travel to many countries abroad, I have encountered my fair share of ignorant, racist, and homophobic comments where I have had to check myself from going off, before turning it into a learning moment—like how Janet so greatly did on the show.

Yet to see someone do what I have always done in my life on such a public and national level ignited a spark in me.

As LGBT people of color, Janet and I share the individual lived experiences of having to defend our self-identity to the white, heteronormative, and patriarchal majority. Couple this shared experience with her proclamation of living for Beyoncé—something anyone who knows me would say is how I live everyday—she became a new definition for me to why Black Girls Rock!

Shortly after Mock’s CNN appearance, I began doing what any product of my generation does with a new popular culture idol—sit on YouTube for hours watching any video I could find of her. I couldn’t get enough. Her ability to speak so eloquently on important trans social justice issues—like how 53 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 were of trans women of color—while also casually joking and throwing shade with whomever she is talking to is what I envision myself doing as I continue to build my professional career.

Yet nothing prepared me for the emotions I felt after finally reading Janet’s New York Times’ bestselling book, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More.

Written as a memoir—I should note that Mock received her Master’s degree from NYU, and is a former staff editor for—Janet allows you to travel back with her to the Hawaiian islands where she was born and raised with her single mother; to the impoverished and drug-filled streets of Oakland, California, where she spent time living with her single father; to the moonlit parking lots of Hawaii where she met her ‘dates’ as a young sex worker; to the hospital recovery room in Bangkok, Thailand, where she would travel to at the age of 18 for a surgery that was not to become a different person, but to enable her “to more fully inhabit [her] authentic self.”

Janet’s writing has enlightened me even more to the realities trans women face in our society, which continues to objectify and vilify our trans sisters.

Janet Mock is not the first trans person whose story has been shared with me—I am very proud of my diligent LGBTQ student leadership in college that cultivated the passion I have for social justice, as well as my work with Believe Out Loud—but it is her success as an author and trans advocate that has positioned her into a shero spotlight for me of complete respect, honour, and—if I’m being completely honest—just a little bit of worship.

Over the past three months, the admiration, respect, and love that I have grown to have for this fabulous woman comes only second to that of my mother and Beyoncé. Janet’s book is a testament to the harsh society that trans women, particularly trans women of color, must face everyday while still dealing with the journey of self-identity, something we all go through. As Janet so fiercly states, the book is “about authenticity and owning our stories in a world that tells us who we are is wrong, shameful, and should be kept secret.”

Janet’s book is reshaping the narratives that are shared in our society about transgender identity, and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

I thank Janet for courageously telling her honest story, and I thank everyone who continues to show me that the only true way to living a happy and wholesome life is by authentically living who you are, despite what anyone may expect of you.

I am proud to be a trans ally, and I hope these words inspire many of you reading this to pick up Janet’s book to begin exploring what it means to be one too.

The Trans 100 list was released today, honoring Trans individuals from across the United States who are currently alive and active in the work of making the lives of Trans people better. Janet Mock was featured on The Trans 100 2013. 

Image via Janet Mock, Twitter

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Comments (2)

Chuck Femia

Great article Sean. I am very
Great article Sean. I am very proud of you and the path you are setting for your life! Keep it up!


What a great article. The
What a great article. The book sounds amazingly informational and full of great inspirations to be a better ally, something I struggle with often. Thank you for this great post, can’t wait for more!

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